Fable - Ask Within The Walls

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Irina

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Stewards rushed to and from the nobles with bags, armour, weapons and more trying to respond to every shout that went up from one of the rich. Servants from the kitchen were busy piling food into a wagon along with a tent that would be set up in the forest for refreshments. Ladies who were not participating in the hunt itself but refused to be left behind at the first bit of fun were piling into carriages pulled by great big horses with shaggy coats and hard eyes. Organised chaos.

Irina strode into it like she was perfectly at home.

Gone was the pretty delicate yellow gown from this morning and in it's place was a pale grey fur-trimmed habit. Her auburn hair had been plaited to keep it off her face which now looked sharper without the softening affect of her curls. She was tugging on her leather gloves as the courtyard paused in their chaotic activity to watch what it was she was doing. The Princess spared none of them so much as a glance as she walked towards the large snow white bear that snarled at its handler. A Steward rushed forward to help her get onto its gigantic back but she was already up and over, settling onto the saddle like a throne.

She seemed to spy the hunter then.

"Vlas, will you be joining us?"
 
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Vlas

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"It would appear so." Vlas had never been much for hunts.

They had always been a tad too easy for him. Unlike any of them the Allomancer didn't really need to use a weapon to spear any type of animal. He could take a simple ball of lead and send it hurtling into the skull of any animal he saw.

It never quite seemed...fair. "It's been some while since i've seen the countryside of our beautiful nation."

That was a lie.

He'd spent a few years touring the continents, but he'd been back for nearly two years now. No one knew of course, just a few peasants who would sooner die than betray the Hunter that had saved their village.

"I miss it." He said with a shrug.
 
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Irina

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Irina gave him an amused look before glancing off into the forest.

"Someone fetch him a bear," she waved a hand and five stewards leapt to do her bidding. With the Princess mounted up the other nobility had also begun to climb onto their mighty mounts backs. The grizzly creatures growled at one another and one gave a vicious swipe towards another who had gotten too close. They sensed their riders enthusiasm for what was to come and they wanted to get going. It wasn't long before Vlas was brought a black beast with a nasty scar down its side.

"Remember," Irina called over the din. It wasn't a shout yet her voice carried powerfully, calling attention to it. "We're looking to kill these wolves hunting our farmers livestock and anything else that shouldn't be in these woods. So whoever brings me the most furs will win a special prize," there was a murmur of excitement amongst the crowd as the steward to her side raised a horn to his lips and blew.

Like a shot they were out of the gates and thundering towards the forest.
 

Vlas

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Vlas was going to object, raising the fact that he did not need a mount.

Allomancy allowed him to move far faster and further than any bear or horse could ever do, but he decided that perhaps he had already rejected one too many things from this particular Princess. Thus he decided to mount up quietly.

He watched as Irina announced the prize for this hunt, glancing across the different faces in the crowd to see who was excited and who didn't care.

Everyone, to his surprise, leaned forward. They listened intently, and then quickly rushed out after the Princess as she moved in on the hunt. Frustration bloomed in Vlas' chest, and he kicked the great bear into motion directly are Irina.

It doesn't make sense. He thought to himself.

He should have noticed something by now. Should have seen a difference. Yet there was nothing. None of the signs.

It didn't make any sense. He knew the creature was here, yet there was no sign of it at all.
 
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Irina

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Irina had been right; her courtiers had needed an outlet and had needed it now. The Hunt was a wild thing as groups split up going in different directions after the scents the bears picked up. It wasn't long until the whole forest was filled with the noise of terrified wolves dashing for the higher mountain slopes they were meant to dwell in. She blew out a relieved breath and her shoulders eased just a little as she listened to it knowing that she would find some respite from their trifles for a least a few days after this.

The bear beneath her growled and the Princess allowed herself a small smile as it lumbered after a scent.

"I suppose this is far beneath you, hunting simple animals, no?" she mused to Vlas. In an odd turn of events she had found herself alone in his company. As she spoke she knocked an arrow in her bow to ready it for the animal her bear stalked.
 
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Vlas

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"I would not say it's beneath me." Vlas said simply, though his opinion might not have reflected those words.

Though he was no martyr, he had often thought that hunting and eating animals was a tad...unnecessary. It had always just seemed to easy, simple even. There were better sources of protein, food that one needed to lead their lives.

"It's simply too easy." He glanced at the Princess. "It takes skill for you to strike an animal with an arrow, yes?"

Vlas asked, though it was hardly a question. "My methods are a bit more...exact."

Simple even.

Enough to take all of the fun out of the event entirely.
 
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Irina

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"How interesting," Irina said in a tone that suggested it really wasn't. Another lie, another layer of protection even though they were alone. People might have said the Princess never destined for the life of politics was naïve and petty but there was a cold cunning to every thing she did. The bear beneath her had been snuffling along the ground, stalking the path of whatever it had found in a surprisingly stealthy manner. His growl however ended any further conversation between the pair and soon after the wolf came into view.

Like much of the wilderness that surrounded Neus the beast was larger than its brethren on the continent and far more vicious. Long sabre toothed fangs curved down from its blood stained muzzle which was buried in the throat of one of the farmers sheep. Her lips pursed as she drew the bow back carefully, taking aim and...

The wolf's head suddenly snapped up but not in the direction of Irina and her Hunter. On the other side of the trees one of the Stewards in their bright red livery had appeared. She hissed in anger, making a gesture for him to move but the young lad didn't pay her any heed. Instead he raised his bow as if he meant to shoot the wolf himself, then at the last moment fired it to the left.

Directly through Irina's left shoulder.
 
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Vlas

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"Shit." Oh he'd never hear the end of this.

In an instant Vlas pulled out a dozen lead balls from his satchel. They were quickly thrown into the air and then suddenly shot forwards. They cut through foliages and branches like butter, slicing through the treeline as though they weren't even there.

A screech of sorts echoed from the man in livery as one of the balls caught his shoulder. A scatter of brackish blood splattered onto the ground behind the man, though he quickly dropped the bow and started to run. Vlas let out a curse, slipping from his mount and about to give chase before he stopped himself.

Was the doppelganger more important or the princess?

That moment of hesitation was all the creature needed. It seemed to blend into the forest itself, shifting and disappearing the foliage and leaving behind nothing but a spatter of it's blood.

The Hunter let out a curse, the quickly turned on his heel and headed towards Irina. He moved just as a dozen others appeared around them. Men and women from the hunt who had heard Vlas' curse and the startling cry from the Princess.
 
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Irina

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The force of the arrow took her clean off her saddle. She hit the leafy floor of the forest with a ground out curse of pain, the opposite hand coming up to grip her shoulder in an effort to stem the blood that was now oozing from the wound. Dimly she was aware of Vlas trying to fire at the Steward who had shot at her and she rolled onto her uninjured side in case she needed to crawl for cover. At least, that's what she willed her body to do. All she could actually manage was to writhe in pain.

"Get away from the Princess," one of the nobility shouted and instantly the ten weapons were pointed towards the Hunter. The words cut through the red mist.

"If you so much as pluck a hair from his head I will hang you from the gallows myself!" she snapped. The man who had spoken paled dramatically but the weapons lowered. Some were dismounting. "Don't. Don't come near me, any of you could be that... thing. Help me up," she snapped to Vlas.
 
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Vlas

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For just a brief moment Vlas had to think about how many of them he could kill before they got him. He had Bronze powder on his belt, but snorting it before they filled him with arrows was impossible. A few of them he could push away, but all?

That wasn't likely.

Thankfully he didn't have to find out just how far he could push himself. The princess gave her order and most laid their weapons low. A small smile tugged at his lips for just a brief moment as he saw the indignation in some of their eyes.

After just a second he stepped over towards Irina. His hand came down and he pulled her off the ground with as much grace as he could offer. He did not point out that technically he could have been a doppelganger as well, deciding it wasn't conducive to keeping his head on his neck.

"Let's get you to a doctor." Vlas told the Princess calmly.

"I could take the arrow out easily enough, but I'm shit at sowing up wounds." He glanced around. "Plus I don't think it'll try again now."

Doppelgangers were assassin's, but they weren't suicidal.
 
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Irina

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Irina gave a groan as he pulled her to her feet. Her shoulder was a symphony of pain and it showed in the ashen shade of her skin even if she clenched her teeth to keep herself from crying.

"There's a doctor back at the picnic," everyone seemed to turn to the young woman who had spoken and she blushed under the different sets of eyes. She dipped into a low curtsy. "F-f-for emergencies M'lady," she clarified. That made sense. Hunter were sometimes pray to rogue arrows or there was the threat of the creatures attacking one of the hunters too. Irina jerkily nodded her head and let go of Vlas, staggering back to her bear who had helpfully laid his head down for her to clamber onto his back.

"Well, lead the way, don't just stand there gawping," she snapped. The courtiers flurried to carry out her order and turned their mounts in the direction of the tent. Quietly, so only Vlas would be able to hear if anyone she muttered. "Idiots. All of them," and grimaced as her bear lurched after the party.

Thankfully the little set up for the picnic wasn't too far. The merriment died as soon as the party there saw the drawn faces of the hunter and then cries went up as they saw the blood - and arrow - on the Princess. She swayed awkwardly in the saddle as the blood loss caught up with her.
 
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Vlas

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Vlas chuckled quietly.

He'd always held much the same opinion when it came to scyophants and the type that made up these Courts. Even twenty years ago as an Imperial Guard he had despised most of the people who followed after the aristocracy.

They were like dog searching for a treat, a fact which never changed.

Unlike the rest of them the Hunter did not remount his great bear. Instead he followed along Irina and the mount she had pulled herself on top of. His hands remained ready incase she swayed too far, prepared to catch her if she needed it.

Eventually they made it back to camp. "Doctor!"

Vlas called loudly.

"NOW!" His voice boomed in a surprising echo, a lean man rushing through the crowd in an instant.
 
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Irina

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Irina half managed to dismount half fell from the saddle into Vlas' waiting arms though the impact had her cursing in a stream of colourful and distinctly unladylike langue. She was aware of the chaos as the picnic courtiers exclaimed and clamoured for information, whilst those who had escorted her back were trying their best to fill them in. Of course nobody knew much and suspicion quickly turned to Vlas.

"Let's get her inside, she's lost a lot of blood," the doctor grimaced then strode back towards the tent which he held open for the hunter then let fall shut behind him. It was pleasantly quiet inside compared to the noise of courtiers outside and the Doctor promptly cleared his work surface, indicating for Vlas to lay the Princess down there.

"Your highness this is going to hurt but I need to take the arrow out," he spoke surprisingly calmly and glanced to Vlas. "Can you hold her down?"

"I don't need-" Irina began to slur but as the doctor snapped the shaft to make it easier to remove her words turned into a yelp of pain as she tried to throw herself off the table.
 
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Vlas

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Vlas was a large man, even without powder he could hold Irina down with one hand and still have strength to spare.

When she tried to throw herself from the table his hand gently came down and pinned her down. His head turned to her, and then towards the doctor who was moving to grab a pair of forceps. His hand came up. "I can do this a bit more easily."

The Allomancer was far from a doctor, but metals he knew.

The barbed arrow that had buried itself in her shoulder would have been painful to rip out. It likely would have torn the flesh and left half a dozen cuts on the way out. Slowly Vlas wrapped his hand around the shaft of the arrow, taking a slow breath.

Irina would feel the odd sensation of the arrowhead shifting, moving, and then suddenly melting within her flesh. Like water it poured out from around the arrowhead, drawing into Vlas' hand and pooling there before he formed it into a solid block. A second later he gestured to the doctor.

"Remarkable."

The man said as he simply removed the shaft of the arrow, clearly pleased with how simple the procedure had become.

"We all have our talents." The Hunter commented as the doctor began to suture the wound.
 
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Irina

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"Yes I am so glad we could all bond over my arrow wound," Irina ground out bitterly. The doctor had the decency to blush before asking Vlas to keep the pressure on the gaping whole in her shoulder whilst he fetched his equipment. The Princess shut her eyes. It was clear from every line on her face that she was in agony but after the initial scream she hadn't uttered a sound.

"What's your plan now Hunter?" she croaked as the doctor returned to her side and begun to carefully clean the wound to prepare it for stitches. Talking kept her mind off of the pain. "Your silver didn't hurt it like you wanted did it?" even with an arrow in her shoulder she hadn't missed his cursing.

As she spoke the doctor poured an ointment into her wound making her flinch before he begun to stitch it up.
 
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Vlas

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"It did not." He was hoping that she hadn't noticed that, mostly because if she did then it might be that others had as well.

Lips thinned for a moment. "I need to do some research."

Everyone thought that Monster hunting was all excitement and action all the time, but that was wrong. Quite a bit of his energy was spent reading books, tracking down old tomes, and writing whatever information he could down.

It was arduous and boring, but necessary.

"I think this may be no ordinary Doppelganger." He explained. "Rather, a patriarch."

At least that was what he thought they were called, he couldn't quite remember.
 
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Irina

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"I suppose it is only right a royal monster take out a royal," Irina said dryly, her voice cracking with the pain of the last few stitches. She gave a soft hiss at the last one and the doctor murmured a quiet apology as he cut off the remaining thread. Once he moved away she cautiously sat up and looked at the nasty puckered skin.

"An inch or two lower and it would have gone through your heart. Put your arm like this please," the doctor demonstrated and Irina copied so that he could bind her arm into a sling.

"Excellent. So a royal monster with a terrible shot," she rolled her eyes and then sighed, glancing over to Vlas. "We have libraries you can use if they are of any help but I don't want you to be far. I'll have your things moved to the room next to mine."
 
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Vlas

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"Scandalous." Vlas joked, though he was probably the only one who would think it funny.

It was after all, Vlas who had been exiled for shtupping the local Princess he was supposed to have been guarding. He was sure that more than a few would make such claims, but from what he had to guess Irina didn't much care.

Right now her life was in danger, that was what mattered. Not rumors. "The library will be helpful."

Probably not, but it was worth a shot.

"As I recall, Patriarchs are more intelligence than their cousins." He didn't know what else to call them. Perhaps he had been wrong about the creatures motives. That was concerning.
 
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Irina

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The look on the Doctor's face clearly suggested it was indeed a scandal but Irina, as Vlas predicted, didn't seem to care. What she looked, was tired and angry.

"My grandfather was in to all that..." she waved her head and scrunched up her nose. "Supernatural nonsense. I'll have Melchett dig out his journals for you perhaps there is something in there," of course it was not her true opinions on the matter. When she was little and her grandfather still alive she had gobbled up the stories he had told her about the wards around the castle against certain creatures and the odd collection of weapons in the cellar. If anything this encounter had made her believe him even more.

She slowly swung her legs over the edge of the table and stood.

"Your Highness you shou--" Irina held up a hand.

"I'm not going to lay around for that thing to come back for a second shot. I want to go home," she glanced to Vlas. Her riding habit was coated in blood down her left side, her carefully pinned hair a wild tangle of curls. Taking a deep breath she banished the ruffled, exhausted, pain-laced expression and replaced it was one of barely contained rage. "Let's go," and without another glance she strode from the tent and began barking orders.
 
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Vlas

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Interesting.

A personal connection perhaps? It was doubtful. Doppelgangers, even Patriarchs, didn't live all that long. Their life cycles was a quarter of the ordinary humans. They usually weren't around long enough to form any sort of proper grudge.

At least not generally speaking.

With long strides Vlas followed after Irina, stroking his beard as he thought about the problem that lay ahead of them. "It's interesting."

He mused out loud.

"Which of the Princes most want you dead?" Vlas asked. From his time in the Guard he knew that some of the families were a bit more...connected than others. Most, like Irina, did not even like to admit the existence of monsters, but some saw opportunity in the darkness.
 
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Irina

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Irina snorted.

"It would be easier for me to tell you which ones don't want me dead," she didn't look at him as she spoke. Instead her eyes were on the buzz of activity as the nobles hurried to pack up food, tents and more. She looked more like a general surveying troops than a Princess who had just been shot with a predator still loose. Still, with a sigh she closed her eyes and thought about his question. If it could help him in anyway then it was important to take it seriously.

"Prince Igor, maybe? We were engaged but I broke it off. Prince Dimitri..." she took a deep breath. "Also a possibility. He was an enemy of my father's and has shown the same coldness to me. Vladovik has wanted my estate since my family died..." she rubbed the bridge of her nose, wracking her brain for something more solid than the usual sharks. Who would benefit if she died? Who had she upset more than others?

"Michail..." her voice trailed off. "My brothers were responsible for his sisters and mothers death."
 
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Vlas

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Vlas considered for a few seconds, listening to the names.

Igor was a fucking moron, more inclined to use a hammer than send a changeling. Hell, he probably didn't even know what a changeling was. "I knew Igor's father, a brute of a man."

That was a nice way of saying he'd been dumb as a bag of rocks and his kid hadn't been much better.

Dimitri was cunning, smart, but still more likely to use the means of man rather than the other worldly. Vlas could remember him well enough. A hard man, but always fair in most matters. One of the few who had not voted to have him exiled.

Vladovik and Michail.

They seemed the two most likely, and both had connections that ran deeper than most would imagine. "Michail always was a bastard."

Vlas mused quietly.

"Strangled a cat." He could remember that horror.
 
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Irina

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Irina went to fold her arms around herself and cursed softly at the sling preventing the automatic gesture. Instead she busied herself tugging at the hem of her ruined hunting jacket.

"Yes, I know. It was my cat," she grimaced at the memory not daring to look at him as she spoke. It had been a present from the Duma himself, a beautiful little ginger kitten with bright blue eyes that she had called Topaz. She had taken him everywhere with her. One day she hadn't been able to find him and had been devastated, only to find his body in her bed that night with the cord around its neck. She could still remember his laugh as she cried.

"Any of them would benefit from my death. I have no family, no heirs. My estate will be up for grabs."
 
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Vlas

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He ran a hand over his beard. "They would, but..."

There was a gambit to be made here. Seven Princes, most of them wanting the others dead. Few people could move between them. The Imperial Guard was sworn to never involve themselves, and the Duma and his family were often held to a standard of autonomy.

Vlas however, wasn't an Imperial Guard anymore.

"I have an idea." He told her. "Though you may not like it."

He gazed at her. "Dimitri. I knew him, back when I was still..."

Vlas gestured.

"I believe I could reach out to him." It seemed inconsequential now, but he quickly added. "I think I could convince him of an opportunity to strike at Michail. He may be cold to you, but he despises him. If we do that, and Michail brought about the Doppelganger. I believe it will create a circumstance that will rush the creature, or change his attentions all together."

The Hunter explained, figuring Irina would be clever enough to understand.
 
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Irina

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Irina pressed her lips together as she thought the idea through quietly.

On the one hand, she could see the benefits of distracting the creature. Her life - albeit momentarily - would be spared and it would give the hunter more time to figure out how to kill it. If silver didn't work then something else surely had to. Then he could kill it and she wouldn't have to worry about it. On the other hand, currently they knew she was its target. If it became distracted with something else then it would be harder to figure out who the doppleganger was, especially as neither of them knew the other Princes' courts that well. Then there was also the potential it wasn't Michail or Dimitri and the creature would still be after them.

She tapped her fingers against her arm.

"I'm not your Princess, you can do as you see fit, but," she turned towards him then, biting the inside of her cheek as she hesitated on saying anything further. "I would ask you to stay until we know it truly had stopped coming after me."
 
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